Concerts: The Decemberists at Radio City, New York.

Let’s start by getting this off my chest first. I’m only sat in Radio Bloody City in that Bloody New York aren’t I? How cool is that? :)

So the lights dim and the plush stage curtain parts slightly to allow a hirsute and (three piece) besuited Colin Meloy to stroll onto the stage with his acoustic guitar and we are straight into the whimsey and then onto the absurd with The Apology Song followed by My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist.

Next up is the beautifully poetic Crane Wife 3 during which the curtain rises to reveal the band in front of the now familiar quilt style backdrop. The macabre Leslie Anne Levine follows ("My name is Leslie Anne Levine, my mother birthed me down a dry ravine") and then (with a dedication to Pope Francis who was in town) we have the humour of the masturbation referencing Billy Liar (‘the second dirtiest song I’ve ever written’) complete with Meloy conducting the audience in a four part harmony singalong.

So there you have it. The bases that define the wide ranging ouvre of Portland’s very own and very wonderful The Decemberists are swiftly covered.

Just how broad their canon of work is can be demonstrated by what they leave out in a set that has almost totally changed in the last two months of the summer tour of North America. No room for The Mariners Revenge Song, This Is Why We Fight, Calamity Song, 16 Military Wives, The Singer Addresses His Audience, I Was Made For The Stage or Yankee Bayonet. But we still get a trip through all the albums plus a rather fine love song from the soon to be released Florasongs EP, titled Why Would I Now?

The pace picks up with Colin urging the audience to sing along ‘loudly and no matter how badly’ to Down By The Water, Cavalry Captain, On The Bus Mall and a great version of one of my favourites, Make You Better with the close harmonies filled even closer by two excellent backing singers (one of whom plays guitar, banjo or mandolin for most of the show). The 5,000 strong audience are now all on their feet dancing and a huge roar greets the intro to O Valencia (with a snippet of Dracula’s Daughter thrown in mid way).

This part of the show comes to a close with The Chimbley Sweep. “Oh lonely urchin! The widow cried, I’ve not been swept since the day my husband died.” He is a one that Meloy.

After a five minute break the band return for an encore (or is it the second half?) and play a six song medley from 2009’s The Hazards of Love that stands as a mini concert in itself with Chris Funk particularly wonderful on a pedal steel that gently caressed as much as the plush art deco seat cushions in the stalls.

Off again to prepare for what we assume will surely be the cetacean based final romp but no, the second encore is Colin again unaccompanied with the achingly tender Of Angels and Angles and then joined by the band for final song Dear Avery.

The house lights rise as Chris’s pedal steel fades and we’ve forgotten all about that whale as we walk out onto the Avenue.

The audience:

Reassuringly varied from T-shirt conscious youth to cultured Manhattan art lovers and a (very, very) David Crosby lookalike.

It made me think...

It’s the songs that The Decemberists leave out, that make The Decemberists The Best and I would happily pay to see a second show with an entirely different set list.

Set List

  • The Apology Song
  • My Mother Was A Teenage Trapeze Artist
  • The Crane Wife 3
  • Leslie Anne Levine
  • On The Bus Mall
  • Billy Liar
  • Lake Song
  • Make You Feel Better
  • Down By The Water
  • Carolina Low
  • Why Would I Now?
  • Cavalry Captain
  • O Valencia/Dracula's Daughter
  • The Chimbley Sweep

First Encore

  • Prelude
  • The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle The Thistles Undone)
  • A Bower Scene
  • Won't Want For Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
  • The Rake's Song
  • The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)

Second Encore

  • Of Angels and Angles
  • Dear Avery